When Toyota called to offer me a week-long test drive, I wished I would have had a long road-trip planned. No such luck. But as it turns out, a week of my regular 25-miles-each-way schlep to take my 10-year-old daughter to and from school, turned out to be a much better way to evaluate a car. So, evaluate it we did. And by “we” I really do mean we: My daughter has some pretty firm opinions about cars. In fact, she’s the one who picked the RAV4 from the list vehicles Toyota offered.

Before we go on, two disclosures. First, no money changed hands around this review, however, I did have the use of a brand spankin’ new Toyota RAV4 for a whole week. The opinions here are all mine—and I did pay for my own gas. Second, my current car is a 1992 Mercedes station wagon, which I got after my then 8-year old daughter and I were in a serious car accident (hit and run, other guy’s fault) and her mother insisted that I drive something safer. There’s no question that an old Mercedes wagon will make you feel safe. But the RAV 4 felt at least as safe—and was infinitely more comfortable.

The RAV4 comes with all sorts of cool features, including a reverse camera so you can see (on the dashboard touchscreen) exactly how close you’re getting to the car behind you. It also has monitor lights on each of the side-view mirrors that flash if someone slips into your blind spot.

I’m not sure how it happened, but half an hour after I got the RAV4, I started getting calls from people who needed large objects moved—objects that would have been too big to fit in my station wagon. The rear seats folded completely flat in about three seconds, and there was plenty of room for an enormous stuffed chair and a few other bulky things.
The RAV4 is pretty tall, so I wasn’t expecting much in the handling department, but I was pleasantly surprised. The car moved through curves with ease. Not quite like a sports car, but with very little sideways lean. Since we did almost equal amounts of highway and city driving, mileage was right in the middle of the advertised 24-city-31-highway range.

The steering wheel has all sorts of buttons that control the stereo and the touchscreen display. Unlike other cars I’ve driven where the buttons are strategically placed so that you change stations or adjust the volume every time you go around a corner, the RAV’s buttons stayed out of the way.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to try out some of the car’s other features, including the adjustable power liftgate, which sounds quite handy.

Bottom line, the RAV4 is comfortable, solid, safe (airbags all over the place and all the latest car-seat restraints), and a pleasure to drive. My daughter’s assessment? Two thumbs up. At the end of my week-long test drive, I briefly toyed with the idea of telling the folks at Toyota that the car had been stolen. My conscience won out, though, much to my daughter’s disappointment.